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Solar farms from companies like SolarDuck can now provide power from the seven seas

A triangular floating solar farm designed by the company SolarDuck is shown on pillars above a body of water.
Image of one of SolarDuck's floating solar farms. Image Credit: SolarDuck

Some of the world’s leading energy giants are exploring the prospect of taking solar to the sea by developing floating solar parks.

From a bird’s eye view, the Merganser, the pilot project of Dutch-Norwegian firm SolarDuck, looks like a beehive of green solar panels floating on blue water.

The design enables them to “float” meters above the water and glide over waves “like a carpet” RWE, an investor of SolarDuck said. Aptly named after a duck, the Merganser is one piece of German energy firm RWE’s plan for the deployment of floating solar technology in the North Sea. It will be installed in Ostend, Belgium, and fly to a capacity peak of 0.5-megawatts, or MWp, CNBC reports.

RWE said Merganser would provide both itself and SolarDuck with “important first-hand experience in one of the most challenging offshore environments in the world;” lessons that could lead to quicker commercialization of the technology from 2023.

RWE’s ultimate goal is to combine wind with its sea solar projects. SolarDuck’s technology could be used with the yet-to-be-developed Hollandse Kust West offshore wind farm, the project of CrossWind, a joint venture between Eneco and Shell.

In its statement, RWE said the “integration of offshore floating solar into an offshore wind farm” is “a more efficient use of ocean space for energy generation.”

CrossWind is also planning to deploy a floating solar technology demonstration, using offshore wind to generate “green hydrogen.”

The market for floating solar has been steadily riding a big wave.

Clocked at a $0.7 billion market revenue in 2021, the floating solar panel market is expected to progress at a compound annual growth rate of 43.02 percent.

This is driven by the rising demand for renewable energy, as well as floating solar’s demonstrated benefits compared to land-based solar and its capacity to reduce water evaporation in water-stressed regions.

As shown in the latest Transparency Market Research (TMR) report, in 2021, the Asia Pacific held a significant share of 95.62 percent of the global floating market, due to significant investments from Japan, China, and India.

Outside of Asia’s waters, North America and Europe had respective market shares of 2.51 percent and 1.6 percent, with major investors harboring in the Netherlands and the UK.

Earlier this month, Trina Solar, identified by TMR as a key market player, made the move to build a 71MW floating solar project in Malaysia after winning a state tender. The floating park will be located at Batang Ai hydroelectric plant to facilitate grid connection and will be the first large-scale floating solar project to be built in Sarawak.

Another Chinese developer, Sungrow FPV boasts over 1 gigawatt of floating solar developments. That's enough to power about 750,000 homes.

Increasingly, floating solar is a viable option for countries that want to decarbonize via their strong solar resources, but have limited land availability, but lots of coastline like seaside Malaysia.

Another way companies are taking advantage of the vast open sea is by marrying floating solar with hydropower.

Soon the Alqueva, the largest lake in Portugal, will float nearly 12,000 photovoltaic (PV) panels. This solar park, established by Portuguese energy firm EDP earlier this month is “the largest in Europe on a reservoir.” The company says it will supply power to more than 30 percent of the population in this region of south Portugal.

EDP’s park generates 5 MW and plans to enable solar power and hydroelectric energy from the dam at Alqueva to be combined.. The company also plans to install a battery storage system with a nominal power of 1MW and a storage capacity of around 2MWh.

The marriage between renewable energy technologies is known as “hybridization.” Whether it be RWE’s collaboration between floating solar and offshore wind or EDP’s addition of hydropower and battery, hybridization may be the key to enhancing the world’s resources and lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

“EDP is a global pioneer in floating solar technology, which is a landmark leap in the expansion of renewables and in accelerating the decarbonization process,” EDP CEO Miguel Stilwell d’Andrade said in a statement.

“The bet on hybridization, by combining electricity produced from water, sun, wind, and storage, is a logical path of growth in which EDP will continue to invest – it allows us to produce cheaper energy, optimizes resources, and with minimal environmental impact.”

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